Showcase Presents Showcase


By Many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-364-1 (TPB)

If you’re a book reviewer, Christmas often comes incredibly early. We received lots and lots of lovely new tomes in the last week and I’ve still not caught up yet, so in the meantime, I’m fobbing you all off with a reworked recommendation I was saving for our actual Christmas promotion season. It’s still a wonderful read criminally in need of re-release and a digital edition, but readily available – for now…

The review is incredibly long. If you want to skip it and just buy the book – because it’s truly brilliant – then please do. I won’t mind and you won’t regret it at all…

In almost every conceivable way, DC’s original “try-out title” Showcase created and dictated the form of the Silver Age of American comic books and is responsible for the multi-billion-dollar industry and art form we all enjoy today.

For many of us old lags, the Silver Age is the ideal era and a still-calling Promised Land of fun and thrills. Varnished by nostalgia (because it’s the era when most of us caught this crazy childhood bug), the clean-cut, unsophisticated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and compelling villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies then troubling the grown-ups. The sheer talent and unbridled professionalism of the creators working in that too-briefly revitalised comics world resulted in triumph after triumph and even inspired competitors to step up and excel: all of which brightened our young lives and still glow today with quality and achievement.

The principle was a sound one and graphically depicted in the very first issue: the Editors at National/DC were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan reactions – for which read Sales…

Firmly ensconced in the age of genre thrillers and human adventurers, this magnificent, monolithic monochrome tome covers the first 21 issues from that historic series, spanning March/April 1956 to July/August 1959, and starts the ball rolling with the first and last appearances of Fireman Farrell in a proposed series dubbed Fire Fighters.

Following the aforementioned short ‘The Story Behind Showcase’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, the human-scaled dramas begin in ‘The School for Smoke-Eaters’ by Schiff and the superb John Prentice (Rip Kirby), introducing trainee fireman Mike Farrell during the last days of his training and desperate to simultaneously live up to and escape his father’s fabulous record as a legendary “smoke-eater”.

The remaining stories, both scripted by Arnold Drake, deal with the job’s daily dilemmas: firstly in ‘Fire under the Big Top’ wherein an unscrupulous showman ignored Farrell’s Fire Inspection findings with tragic consequences, and in‘Fourth Alarm’ mixing an industrial dispute over fireman’s pay, a crooked factory owner and a waterfront blaze captured on live TV in a blisteringly authentic tale of human heroism.

Showcase #2 featured Kings of the Wild: tales of animal valour imaginatively related in three tales scripted by Robert Kanigher – who had thrived after the demise of superheroes with a range of fantastical genre adventures covering western, war, espionage and straight adventure. Stunningly illustrated by Joe Kubert, ‘Rider of the Winds’ tells of a Native American lad’s relationship with his totem spirit Eagle; ‘Outcast Heroes’ (Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) relates how an orphan boy’s loneliness ends after befriending a runaway mutt who eventually saves the town’s kids from a flood before ‘Runaway Bear’ – drawn by Russ Heath – uses broad comedy to describe how an escaped circus bruin battles all the horrors of the wilderness to get return to his comfortable, safe life under the Big Top.

Issue #3 debuted Kanigher & Heath’s The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team as they move from students to successful undersea warriors. Beginning with ‘The Making of a Frogman’ as the smallest diver – mocked and chided as a ‘Sardine’ by his fellows (especially ‘Shark’ and ‘Whale’) – perseveres and forges bonds until the trio are dumped into blazing Pacific action in ‘Flying Frogmen’, learning the worth of teamwork and sacrifice by destroying a Japanese Sub base in ‘Silent War’

The feature returned as a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) amongst other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. The next debut was to be the most successful but the cautious publishers took a long, long time to make it so…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age officially arrived began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

The industry had never really stopped trying to revive superheroes when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956, with such precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955); Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Sentinel of Liberty (December 1953-October 1955) and even DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the close of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) still turning up in second-hand-stores and “Five-and-Dime” bargain bins. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner and Golden-Age Flash scripter Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in the exploding chemicals of his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his predecessor (scientist Jay Garrick, who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative pinnacle), Barry Allen became the point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and the entire industry.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (Kanigher) and ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier’ (written by the superb John Broome) are polished, coolly sophisticated stories introducing the comfortingly suburban superhero and establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Whether defeating bizarre criminal masterminds such as The Turtle or returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. Nonetheless the concept was so controversial that despite phenomenal sales, rather than his own series the Fastest Man Alive was given a Showcase encore almost a year later…

Showcase #5 featured the last comics concept in years that didn’t actually develop into an ongoing series, but that’s certainly due to changing fashions of the times and not the quality of the work. The three crime yarns comprising cops-&-robbers anthology Manhunters, begin with ‘The Greatest Villain of all Time’ by Jack Miller & Mort Meskin, revealing how Hollywood screenwriter-turned-police detective Lt. Fowler is dogged by a madman playing for real all the fantastic bad guys the mystery author had once created, whilst ‘The Two Faces of Mr. X’ (Miller, Curt Swan & Sy Barry) finds a male model drafted by the FBI to replace a prominent mob-boss. Unfortunately, it’s the day before the gangster is scheduled for face-changing plastic surgery…

‘The Human Eel’ (Miller & Bill Ely) then pits a cop unable to endure heights against an international high-tech rogue who thinks he hold all the winning cards…

The next try-out was on far firmer fashion grounds and was the first feature to win two issues in a row.

The Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept. As the superhero genre was ever so cautiously alpha-tested in 1956 here was a super-team – the first new group-entry of this still-to-be codified era – but with no uncanny abilities or masks, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes, and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery…

If you wanted to play editorially safe you could argue that were simply another para-military band of adventurers like the long running Blackhawks… but they weren’t.

A huge early hit – winning their own title before The Flash (March 1959) and just two months after Lois Lane (March 1958, although she had been a star in comics since 1938 and even had TV, radio and movie recognition on her side) – the Challs struck a chord resonating for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are quite rightly millions of words written about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. When the comic industry suffered a collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby briefly returned to DC, crafting genre mystery tales and revitalising the Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. He also re-packaged for Showcase an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and long-time collaborator Joe Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four extraordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers brought together for a radio show who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Already obviously what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, of course, Justice.

Showcase #6, dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956 – introduced pilot Ace Morgan, wrestler Rocky Davis, acrobat Red Ryan and scholarly marine explorer “Prof” Haley in a no-nonsense romp by Kirby, scripter Dave Wood, inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, before devoting the rest of the issue to a spectacular epic with the doom-chasers hired by duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient casque holding otherworldly secrets and powers in ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’

This story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates, and Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism as the heroes tackle ancient horrors such as ‘Dragon Seed!’, ‘The Freezing Sun!’ and ‘The Whirling Weaver!’

The fantasy magic continued in the sequel: a science fiction crisis caused when an alliance of Nazi technologies with American criminality unleashes a robotic monster. Scripted by Kirby, ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, March/April 1957) introduces quietly capable boffin Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females had returned to a subsidiary status in that so-conservative era.

As her computers predict ‘A Challenger Must Die!’, the lads nevertheless continue to hunt a telepathic, sentient super-robot who inadvertently terrorises ‘The Fearful Millions’ but soon find their sympathies with the tragic artificial intelligence after ‘The Fateful Prediction!’ is fulfilled…

Showcase #8 (June 1957) again featured the Flash, leading with another Kanigher tale – ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’. This perplexing but pedestrian mystery sees Frank Giacoia debut as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’. With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike Golden Age stalwarts, new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Henceforth, Bad Guys would be as visually arresting and memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again as pre-eminent Flash Foe and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s classic pantheon of super-villains.

Also included is filler reprint ‘The Race of Wheel and Keel’ by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & Harry Lazarus, from All-Star Comics #53 (June/July 1950): a true story of how in 1858 a shipping magnate and stagecoach tycoon competed to prove which method of transportation was fastest…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m astounded now at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning so many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to a popular American stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but asking kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in three tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino; opening with seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang. The childhood sweetheart of Superboy seems to be a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry is off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ aggravatingly saw Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, and the premier concludes with concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic super-bliss…

The next issue (September/October 1957) offered three more of the same, all illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, beginning with ‘The Jilting of Superman’ – scripted by Otto Binder – wherein the Man of Tomorrow almost falls for an ancient ploy as Lois pretends to marry another man to make the Kryptonian clod realise what she means to him…

‘The Sightless Lois Lane’ by Coleman reveals how a nuclear accident temporarily blinds the journalist, before her unexpected recovery almost exposes Clark Kent’s secret when he callously changes to Superman in front of the blind girl. Binder delightfully closes the issue with ‘The Forbidden Box from Krypton’: a cache of devices dug up by a Smallville archaeologist originally packed by Jor-El to aid the infant superbaby on Earth. Of course, when Lois opens the chest all she sees is a way to become as powerful as the Man of Steel before becoming addicted to being a super-champion in her own right…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane launched into her own title scant months later, clearly exactly what the readers wanted…

Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) saw the Challengers return to combat an alien invasion on ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even today. Whilst searching for missing Antarctic explorers the Challs discover an under-ice base where double-brained aliens prepare to explosively alter the mass and gravity of Earth. Although intellectually superior, ‘The Tyrans’are no match for the indomitable human heroes and with their Plan A scotched, resort to brute force and ‘The Thing That Came out of the Sea’, even as Prof scuttles their aquatic ace in the hole with ‘One Minute to Doom’

By the time of their final Showcase cases (#12, January/February 1958) they had already secured their own title. Here, though, ‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ is defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein, not Wally Wood as credited here) as international spy and criminal Karnak steals a clutch of ancient chemical weapons which create giants and ‘The Fire Being!’, summon ‘The Demon from the Depths’and materialise ‘The Deadly Duplicates!’ before the pre-fantastic four put their enemy down.

Flash zipped back in Showcase #13 (March/April 1958) in a brace of tales pencilled by Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. Written by Kanigher, ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ follows the Scarlet Speedster as he tackles atomic blackmail in Paris, foils kidnappers and rebuilds a pyramid in Egypt; dismantles an avalanche in Tibet and scuttles a pirate submarine in the Pacific, before Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ introduces outlandish chemical criminal Al Desmond who ravages Central City as Mr. Element until the Flash outwits him.

One last try-out issue – inked by Giacoia – cemented the Flash’s future: Showcase #14 (May/June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’ as the Fastest Man Alive smashes dimensional barriers to rescue his girlfriend Iris West from uncanny cosmic colossi and stamp out an alien invasion plan, after which Al Desmond returns with an altered M.O. and new identity. Doctor Alchemy’s discovery of the mystic Philosopher’s Stone makes him ‘The Man who Changed the Earth!’: a stunning yarn and worthy effort to bow out on, but it was still nearly a year until the first issue of The Flash finally hit the stands.

To reiterate: Showcase was a try-out comic designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially, a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and Flash, so Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now urged his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and the popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens. Jack Schiff came up with a “masked” crimefighter of the future – who featured in issues #15 and 16 – whilst Julie Schwartz concentrated on the now in the saga of a contemporary Earth explorer catapulted into the most uncharted territory yet imagined.

Showcase #15 (September/October 1958) commenced without fanfare – or origin – the ongoing adventures of Space Ranger – beginning in ‘The Great Plutonium Plot’ (plotted by Gardner Fox, scripted by pulp veteran Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Bob Brown).

Their hero was in actuality Rick Starr, son of a wealthy interplanetary businessman who – thanks to incredible gadgets and the assistance of shape-shifting alien pal Cryll and capable Girl Friday Myra Mason – spent his free time battling evil and injustice. When Jarko the Jovian space pirate targets only ships carrying the trans-uranic element, Rick suspects a hidden motive. Donning his guise of the Space Ranger, he lays a cunning trap, exposing a hidden mastermind and a deadly ancient device endangering the entire solar system…

From his base in a hollow asteroid, Space Ranger ranges the universe and ‘The Robot Planet’ brings him and his team to Sirius after discovering a diabolical device designed to rip Sol’s planets out of their orbits. At the end of his voyage, Starr discovers a sublime civilisation reduced to cave-dwelling and a mighty computer intelligence intent on controlling the entire universe unless he can stop it…

Issue #16 opened with ‘The Secret of the Space Monster’ (plot by John Forte, scripted by Hamilton, illustrated by Brown) with Rick, Myra and Cryll investigating an impossible void creature and uncovering a band of alien revolutionaries testing novel super-weapons. ‘The Riddle of the Lost Race’ (Fox, Hamilton & Brown) then takes the team on a whistle-stop tour of the Solar system in pursuit of a vicious criminal and hidden treasures of a long-vanished civilisation.

A few months later Space Ranger was transported to science fiction anthology Tales of the Unexpected, beginning with issue #40 (August 1959) to hold the lead and cover spot for a 6-year run…

One of the most compelling and revered stars of those halcyon days was an ordinary Earthman who regularly travelled to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs, he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.

Showcase #17 (November/December 1958) proclaimed Adventures on Other Worlds, courtesy of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, telling of an archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged natives in Peru, jumps a 25-foot chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Rematerialising on another planet filled with giant plants and monsters, he is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language via a cunning contrivance. ‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals Rann is a world recovering from atomic war, and the beam Adam intercepted was in fact a simple flare, one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races.

In the four years (Speed of Light, right? As You Know, Bob – Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light-years from Sol) the Zeta-Flare travelled through space, cosmic radiation converted it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange is a most willing prisoner on a fantastic world of mystery, adventure and romance…

And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has Adam started acclimatising than an alien race The Eternalsinvades, seeking a mineral that grants them immortality. Strange’s courage and sharp wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the Zeta radiation finally fade, drawing him home before his adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. Thus was established the principles of this beguiling series. Adam would intercept a Zeta-beam hoping for some time with his alien sweetheart, only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.

The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ sees him obtain the crimson-and-white spacesuit and weaponry that became his distinctive trademark in a tale of alien invaders attacking a lost colony of Rannians. They reside on planetary neighbour Anthorann – a fact that also introduces the major subplot of Rann’s still-warring city-states, all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development….

The next issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ – with sub-atomic marauders displacing the native races until Adam unravels their nefarious plans – and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’, wherein our hero outfoxes the dictator of Dys who plans to invade Alanna’s home-city Rannagar.

With this last story, Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although the former did ink Showcase #19’s stunning Gil Kane cover, (March/April 1959) which saw the unwieldy Adventures on Other Worlds title replaced with eponymous logo Adam Strange.

‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales wherein the Earthman must outwit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. After so doing, Adam Strange took over the lead spot and cover of anthology comic Mystery in Space with the August issue.

Clearly on a creative high and riding a building wave, Showcase #20 (May/June 1959) introduced Rip Hunter… Time Master and his dauntless crew as Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (by Jack Miller & Ruben Moreira) in a novel-length introductory escapade seeing the daredevil physicist, his engineer friend Jeff Smith, girlfriend Bonnie Baxter and her little brother Corky travel to the Mesozoic era, unaware they are carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jack the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of castaways, Rip and his team become ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’, but when an erupting volcano provokes ‘The Great Beast Stampede’, our dauntless chrononauts finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available, but never afraid to blend historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and this volume concludes with an epic follow-up. Illustrated by Sekowsky & Joe Giella, ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959,) has the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of Atlantis. Starting with a dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, the explorers follow the trail back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE and uncover the secret of the witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’ only to find the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement to be a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter would appear twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic. The succeeding months would see the Silver Age truly kick into High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast…

These stories from a uniquely influential comic book determined the course of the entire American strip culture and for that alone they should be cherished, but the fact they are still some of the most timeless, accessible and entertaining graphic adventures ever produced is a gift that should be celebrated by every fan and casual reader.

Buy this for yourself, get it for your friends and get a spare just because you can…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Steed and Mrs Peel volume 2: The Secret History of Space


By Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang, Ron Riley & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-340-2 (TPB)

The (other) Avengers was an incredibly stylish, globally popular British TV show which blended espionage with arch glamor, seductively knowing comedy and deadly danger with elements of technological fantasy. It ran from the 1960s through to the beginning of the 1980s. A phenomenal cult hit, the show (and sequel The New Avengers) is best remembered for Cool Britannia outreach, stylish action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, uniquely English festishistic trappings, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

Enormously popular all over the globe, the show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime thriller Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrilling and sophisticated drama/lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by Dame Diana Rigg, had replaced landmark character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female on British TV history – and took the show to even greater heights of success. Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented into the nation’s psyche the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman: largely banishing the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967, herself replaced by another feisty female: Tara King (Linda Thorson) who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as partners and foils to agelessly debonair but deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games and collector models; a pop single, stage show and radio series, plus audio adventures, posters, books and all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation. The one we care most about is comics and naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either.

Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus the Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced.

This ran until #771 (September 24th 1966), and the dashing duo also starred in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic with #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until #1077 in 1972.

In 1966, Mick Anglo Studios unleashed a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook, and two years later in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book using recycled UK material as John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had since secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”. Although a constantly evolving premise, fans mostly fixate on the classic pairing of Steed and Peel – which is handy as the Avengers title is embargoed up the wazoo now.

There were wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Seasonal trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969: supplemented by a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Most importantly, Eclipse/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries between 1990 and 1992. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with supplementary scripting from Anne Caulfield. That tale was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios: a notional pilot for the later iteration under review here.

The Adventures of Steed and Mrs. Peel began with issue #0-3 (August 2012), reintroducing the faithful and newcomers to a uniquely British phenomenon and saw the grand dames of Spy Fi tackle old (TV) enemies The Hellfire Club at the height of the 1960s.

After quelling last volume’s A Very Civil Armageddon, the intrigue resumes here and now with Steed and Peel clearing up loose ends by attending a highly suspect gala soiree in ‘Ballroom Dance Fu’ (by Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang & colourist Ron Riley). The scoundrel du jour under investigation is wealthy rogue Lloyd Cushing, but the true target is scurrilous brainwasher Mr. Blackwell – the sinister mindbender who facilitated the Hellfire Club’s schemes and previously warped Mrs Peel into their Queen of Sin.

Sadly, despite a minimum of murders and the defeat of their foe, our heroes are left little wiser, and blithely unaware that the schemes of a hidden mastermind are still proceeding apace…

Main event ‘The Secret History of Space’ then kicks off with the abduction of British Air Chief Marshal Trevor Seabrook’s wife in opening gambit ‘Steed Drifts Off into Space’. The hidden villain’s ultimate aim is achieved when the distraught airman – head of the UK’s Space Program – hands over an item long stored and forgotten in a research facility. Investigating the extortion, Steed and Peel are baffled to learn that the top-secret booty is a decades-old empty glass jar…

Diligent investigation leads the Derring Duo to a warehouse where old enemy Dr. Peter Glass (another TV series recruit) has been continuing his deadly experiments into optical lasers. It’s quite the conundrum since Steed clearly remembers killing him…

The answer is forthcoming as ‘Time Flies’ reveals a bit of chronal meddling from the bonkers boffin’s future assistant Jamie upsetting the timeline and risking things from beyond our comprehension getting dangerously close to humanity. Thankfully, even a gang of time-duplicated henchpersons are no match for Mrs Peel in full assault mode…

With normality restored, our heroes then voyage to small Welsh mining town Abergylid, where an unlikely cluster of suicides (24 in one month) has the Ministry deeply concerned. After both almost simultaneously succumb to manic death-urges, simple deduction leads to an outside influencer callously operating with malign intent and methods in ‘Tawdry Little Endings’.

Wry, sharp and wickedly satisfying, these classy cloak-&-dagger dramas are sheer delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike and this volume also includes a wealth of covers and variants gallery by Joe Corroney & Brian Miller; Drew Johnson, Mike Perkins, Barry Kitson and Davis (all coloured by Vladimir Popov), Lorena Carvalho and Chan Hyuk Lee.
© 2012, 2013 Studio Canal S.A. All rights reserved.

DC’s First Issue Specials


By Jack Kirby, Joe Simon & Jerry Grandenetti, Bob Haney & Ramona Fradon, Robert Kanigher & John Rosenberger, Michael Fleischer & Steve Ditko, Mike Grell, Martin Pasko & Walter Simonson, Gerry Conway & Frank Redondo, Mike Vosburg, Denny O’Neil & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779501776 (HB)

Nobody knows where ideas come from, but at least in comics it’s easy to see how they turn out. Mainstream companies have always favoured try-out vehicles – like Gold Key’s Four Color; Magazine Enterprises’ A-1; DC’s Showcase and The Brave and the Bold; Charlton Bullseye; Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight – and the principle was a sound one, graphically depicted in every first issue. In the late 1950s, editors at National/DC were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess the fans reactions. The results kickstarted the Silver Age and introduced dozens of immortal, profitable characters and concepts…

When the comic book revolution seemed to be fading out in the mid-1970s it was revived in part by innovative scheduling and a new awareness of the need to experiment, leading to this sturdy hardback/digital compilation of some genuine hits and near-misses…

Originally printed as 1st Issue Special #1-13, spanning April 1975 to April 1976, it’s supplemented by then-Editor Gerry Conway’s revelatory Introduction ‘If at First You Don’t Succeed’.

Famed for his larger-than-life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who had lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He always believed sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books beside mankind’s other literary art forms. It’s a genuine shame he didn’t live long enough to see today’s vibrant and vastly varied graphic novel industry.

On ending his third sojourn at the company – just prior to returning to Marvel for 2001: A Space Odyssey/Machine Man, Captain America, Black Panther and more – Kirby unleashed a bunch of new options for DC to expand and capitalise on over the coming decades. Other than Kobra – which was hastily reworked by other hands and given its own series – they all appeared in the new Comics Showcase.

Debuting in the debut 1st Issue Special #1 and inked by D. Bruce Berry, ‘Atlas the Great!’ harks back to the dawn of human civilisation and the blockbusting travails of mankind’s first super-powered champion in a bombastic and tantalizing Sword & Sorcery yarn.

Kirby’s collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon always produced dynamite concepts, unforgettable characters, astounding stories and huge sales, no matter what genre avenues they pursued. They blazed trails for so many others to follow; reshaping the nature of American comics with their innovations and sheer quality. Simon & Kirby offered stories shaped by their own sensibilities: always testing fresh ideas and avenues. They chased ideas for comics nobody else ever had before, identifying gaps and probing potential.

Although junior plutocrat Richie Rich had been coining it for Harvey Comics for decades, Simon and old collaborator Jerry Grandenetti looked for drama as well as laughs in the set-up and came up with ‘The Green Team: Boy Millionaires’ for the second 1st Issue.

Here magnate minors The Commodore (shipping), JP Houston (oil) and Cecil Sunbeam (moviemaker) are joined by black shoeshine boy Abdul Smith after a banking error turns the industrious lad into an instant parvenu. Dedicated to adventure and social advancement, the kids then unwisely back ‘The Great American Pleasure Machine’

The first of a string of potential revivals follows as Metamorpho the Element Man returns courtesy of fabled originators Bob Haney & Ramona Fradon. ‘The Freak and the Billion-Dollar Phantom’ sees Rex Mason seeking to thwart the vengeful schemes of a ghost betrayed by America’s Founding Fathers and resolved to destroy Washington DC.

For #4, Robert Kanigher, John Rosenberger & Vince Colletta introduce a truly novel but now unfortunately dated concept in ‘Lady Cop’.

Earnest, well-meaning and immaculately rendered by the criminally-underappreciated Rosenberger, the tale of college student Liza Warner – who survives a serial killer and takes control of her life by becoming a police officer – is rather heavy-handed, but addresses in ‘Poisoned Love’ issues of controlling boyfriends, parental abuse, underage sex and venereal disease with a degree of mature understanding we’d be hard-pressed to see these days. I think she was one of the few characters still dormant since her debut…

Kirby – with Berry – returned in #5 (August 1975) to revise his own Golden Age stalwart safari guide Paul Kirk replaced by a frustrated lawyer. This passing of a torch sees a devout evil-crusher working for an ancient justice-cult retire: beguiling his nephew – Public Defender Mark Shaw – to become the latest super-powered ‘Manhunter’ battling ancient wickedness with alien super-tech…

A rare but welcome digression into comedy manifested as ‘The Dingbats of Danger Street’ disgraced 1st Issue Special #6, with Mike Royer inking a bizarre and hilarious revival of Kirby’s Kid Gang genre starring four multi-racial street urchins united for survival and annoying the heck out of cheesy thugs and surreal super threats like Jumping Jack and The Gasser

Steve Ditko’s startling psychedelic avenger The Creeper debuted in early 1968, parlaying his premier in Showcase #73 into a superb but brief run in Beware the Creeper before being cancelled with the sixth issue (March/April 1969) – by which time Ditko had all but abandoned his creation. It was fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but somehow wasn’t satisfactory or what the public wanted.

This was a time when superheroes went into steep decline, with supernatural and genre material regaining prominence throughout the industry. With Fights ‘n’ Tights comics folding all over, Ditko concentrated again on Charlton’s mystery line, the occasional horror piece for Warren and his own projects…

In the years his own comic was dormant, the Creeper enjoyed numerous guest shots in other comics, which established that the city he prowled was in fact Gotham. When Ditko returned to DC in the mid-1970s, 1st Issue Special snapped him up.

Issue #7 (October 1975) gave the quirky crusader another shot at stardom in ‘Menace of the Human Firefly’ written by Michael Fleisher and inked by Mike Royer. It saw reinstated TV journalist Jack Ryder inspecting the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary just as manic lifer Garfield Lynns breaks jail to resume his interrupted costumed career as the master of lighting effects.

By the time the rogue’s brief but brilliant rampage is over, the Creeper has discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities…

The story wasn’t enough to immediately restart the rollercoaster, but a few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots and shine again. Written and drawn by Ditko, The Creeper became a regular in World’s Finest Comics

During the troubled 1970s the American comics industry suffered one of the worst of its periodic downturns and publishers desperately cast about for anything to bolster the flagging sales of superhero comics.

By revising their self-imposed industry code of practice (administered by the Comics Code Authority) to allow supernatural and horror comics, publishers tapped into the global revival of interest in spiritualism and the supernatural, and as a by-product opened their doors to Sword-and-Sorcery as a viable genre with Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith’s take on R. E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian an early exemplar.

DC launched a host of titles into that budding market but although individually interesting nothing stuck until First Issue Special #8.

With The Warlord, popular Legion of Super-Heroes artist Mike Grell launched his pastiche, homage and tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s works (particularly Pellucidar – At the Earth’s Core) which, after a rather shaky start (just like Conan, the series was cancelled early in the run but rapidly reinstated) went on to become for a time DC’s most popular title.

Blending swords, sorcery and super-science with spectacular, visceral derring-do, the lost land of Skartaris is a venue expertly designed for adventure: stuffed with cavemen, warriors, mythical creatures, dinosaurs and scantily-clad hotties. How could it possibly fail?

The magic commences with ‘Land of Fear!’ as in 1969, U2 spy-pilot Colonel Travis Morgan is shot down whilst filming a secret Soviet base. The embattled aviator manages to fly his plane over the North Pole before ditching, expecting to land on frozen Tundra or pack-ice on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

Instead, he finds himself inside the Earth, marooned in a vast, tropical jungle where the sun never sets. The incredible land is populated by creatures from every era of history and many that never made it into the science books. Plunging head-on into the madness, the baffled airman saves an embattled princess from a hungry saurian before both are captured by soldiers. Taken to the city of Thera, Morgan is taught the language by fellow captive Tara and makes an implacable enemy of the court wizard Deimos. After surviving an assassination attempt the pair escape into the eternal noon of the land beneath the Earth.

Within months Morgan had his own-bimonthly title written, pencilled and inked by Grell.

Another delayed reaction revival in #9 saw Golden Age mage ‘dr. fate’ reintroduced and revamped thanks to arch stylists Martin Pasko & Walter Simonson.

A brilliant imagination and, by his own admission, more designer than artist, Simonson broke through in the standard manner in the early 1970s by illustrating short stories for DC’s anthology comics – a valuable and much-missed proving ground for budding talent. Whilst working on Fritz Leiber’s licensed property Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for the seminal Sword of Sorcery comic-book, he was commissioned by Archie Goodwin to illustrate groundbreaking, award-winning Manhunter feature for Detective Comics and instantly catapulted to the forefront of comics creators.

Here he and Pasko reintegrate the best elements of the Golden Age run as the master of magic battles accursed and murderous Egyptian mummy Khalis, who seeks to turn back time and unmake the world. The tale allowed the artist to stretch himself and explore his increasing fascination with patterns, symbols and especially typography. It’s a cracking good read too, which redefined and repositioned Fate for decades to come.

Simon & Grandenetti, with Creig Flessel, used #10 to unleash ‘The Outsiders’, a band of truly creepy freaks united by Doctor Goodie/Doc Scary to save the ugly, unwanted and persecuted from bigotry and intolerance after which ‘Code Name: Assassin’ sees Conway expand his concept of Good Bad Men (which created The Punisher) as augmented telekinetic Jonathan Drew declares war on crime and death to evil in a tantalising yarn-of-its-time illustrated by Frank Redondo & Al Milgrom. Assassin would eventually resurface as a Superman villain.

Starman is a character and property DC regularly revises, and First Issue Special #12 (March 1976) saw one of the most radical reinterpretations as Conway, Mike Vosburg & Royer introduce Mikaal Tomas: point-man for an imminent alien invasion of Earth. What could possibly make him betray his people, his duty and his true love to abruptly switch sides and fight for humanity?

The last try-out in this run was without doubt the most significant. Not only did the tale lead to an new series, but it also cemented New Genesis, Apokolips and especially ultimate villain Darkseid as pivotal to the further unfolding of the DCU. The characters have never been long absent from the continuity.

When Kirby moved back to DC in 1970, he created one of the most powerful concepts in comics history. His Fourth World inserted a whole new mythology into the existing DC universe and blew the minds of a generation of readers. Starting with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, he revived the 1940s kid-team The Newsboy Legion; introduced large-scale cloning in the form of The Project, and hinted the city’s gangsters had otherworldly backers. He then moved on to the Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle: an interlinked triptych of projected miniseries forming an epic mosaic.

These titles introduced rival races of gods – dark and light – risen from the ashes of a previous Armageddon to battle forever. And then their conflict spread to Earth…

Kirby’s concepts, as always, fired and inspired his contemporaries and successors. The gods of Apokolips and New Genesis have become a crucial foundation of the DC universe, surviving numerous revisions and retcons periodically bedevilling continuity-hounds.

Many major talents have dabbled with the concept over the years and many titles have come and gone starring Kirby’s creations. It all began with the final 1st Issue Special #13 and ‘Return of the New Gods’.

Almost before the dust had settled from Jack’s departure back to Marvel, his greatest creation was revived. With Conway plotting, Denny O’Neil scripting & Vosburg rendering a resurrection of the uncompleted saga, ‘Lest Night Fall Forever!’sees modern war god Orion battling Apokolyptian enemies on Earth as his wicked sire seeks again the anti-Life Equation. It’s time to assemble a new team and rush to humanity’s aid…

With covers by Kirby, Grandenetti, Fradon, Rosenberger & Dick Giordano, Ditko, Grell, Joe Kubert and Ernie Chan, plus apposite text features from original issues accompanying each tale telling ‘The Story Behind the Story’, this is a true gem for fans that will also impress newbies looking for the odd timeless thrill….
© 1975, 1976, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blake and Mortimer: Professor Satō’s Three Formulae Parts One (Mortimer in Tokyo) & Two (Mortimer versus Mortimer)


By Edgar P. Jacobs and Bob De Moor: with colours by Paul-Serge Marssignac, translated by Jerome Saincantin(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-292-8 (Album PB Pt 1) 978-1-84918-303-1(Album PB Pt 2)

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a daunting variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers which blended science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted in September 1946; gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin: an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world-famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world. Bon anniversaire, Chaps!…

Les 3 formules du professeur Satō was a tragically extended affair and Jacob’s last hurrah. What became the 11th album was originally serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, after which the author abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 and soon after, Bob de Moor was commissioned by the family and estate to complete the final tale from Jacob’s pencil roughs and script notes. The concluding album was finally released in March 1990. This led to a republishing of all the earlier exploits and eventually fresh adventures from a variety of creative teams…

Mortimer in Tokyo opens at Haneda Airport, where Air Traffic Controllers experience a unique problem when a UFO disrupts their carefully plotted flight courses. With disaster imminent, jets are scrambled to pursue the meteoric anomaly. Just before they perish, the pilots radio back that they are being attacked by a dragon…

As the news filters around the world, renowned cyberneticist Professor Akira Satō argues with assistant Dr. Kim, deeply remorseful that his latest breakthrough has been the cause of such tragedy. Kim only barely dissuades his Sensei from turning himself in to the authorities but is utterly unable to convince or prevent Satō from involving visiting colleague Philip Mortimer in his crisis of conscience…

The British scholar is in Kyoto attending a succession of scientific conferences, and when an ominous outsider overhears Satō’s intentions through hidden surveillance methods, the reaction is both explosive and potentially murderous…

The first Mortimer knows of the problem is when a gang of gunmen attempt to kidnap him off the streets, but after fighting them off and escaping, the old warrior returns to his hotel and finds a telegram waiting for him…

An urgent request to join old friend Satō immediately seems impossible due to stringencies of train timetabling, but an accommodating journalist overhears and offers a speedy compromise. Mortimer is suspicious of the happy accident… but not suspicious enough…

Surviving another assassination attempt by sheer force of will, the professor is then lost in the wilds of Japan before eventually battling his way to Satō’s lab outside Tokyo where he witnesses a series of astonishing sights.

His host has worked miracles in the fields of robotics – including the dragon which so recently and horrifically malfunctioned – but is at a loss to explain how his incredible creations have gone wrong at such a late stage. Worldly-wise Mortimer soon deduces the causes: espionage and sabotage…

As the British boffin sends for doughty comrade-in-arms Captain Blake, Satō is comforted by the fact that the key formulae for producing his mechanical marvels have been divided and deposited at three different banks in Tokyo. The Sensei breathes even easier after arranging that only Mortimer can retrieve them, but this only prompts their hidden enemy to accelerate his plans and reveal himself as one of Mortimer’s greatest foes…

Unable to induce or force Mortimer to retrieve the scientific goldmine, the mastermind has an android double constructed to fool the banks, but the rush-job breaks down before the task is completed. Now the vile villain has only more card to play before the formidable Blake arrives…

This edition – available as always in paperback album and digital formats – concludes with excerpts from other B & M albums, plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts to whet the appetite for further treats in store…

Cunning and convoluted, this devilishly devious tale unfolds with potent authenticity and ever-escalating tension, building to an explosive conclusion which eventually took eighteen years to conclude. At least we don’t have to wait that near-lifetime for the epic denouement…

Part 2: Mortimer versus Mortimer
Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (March 30th 1904-February 20th 1987) is deservedly considered a founding father of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised epic formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish, thoroughly British stars were conceived for the premier issue of Le Journal de Tintin, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – in exactly the same way Dan Dare was for 1950s Britain.

Jacobs was Brussels-born: a precocious child perpetually drawing, but even more obsessed with music and performing arts – especially opera. He attended a commercial school but loathed the idea of office work, avidly pursuing arts and drama jobs after graduation in 1919.

A succession of such at opera-houses (scene-painting, set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented his private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing. His dreamed-of operatic career was thwarted by the Great Depression. When arts funding suffered massive cutbacks following the global stock market crash, he was compelled to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing.

In 1940, Jacobs switched to commercial illustration, winning regular work in the magazine Bravo, as well as illustrating short stories and novels. He famously took over the syndicated Flash Gordon strip after the occupying German authorities banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero and the publishers desperately sought someone to satisfactorily complete the saga.

Jacobs’ ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation fun-police, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U: a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip, the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips of The Shooting Star (originally published in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was also contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic we know as The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.

After the war and Europe was liberated, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comic strip stars to work for his proposed new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also commissioned Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with simultaneous editions in Belgium, France and Holland to be edited by Hergé and starring the intrepid boy reporter and a host of new heroes.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

As revealed in an enticing, photo-packed essay closing this Cinebook volume, Blake and Mortimer were a lucky compromise. Jacobs had wanted to create a period historical drama entitled Roland the Bold but changed genres due to an overabundance of such strips…

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs since their time together on Bravo, and the first instalment of the epic thriller serial Le secret de l’Espadon starred a bluff, gruff British scientist and an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on Laudy himself…

The initial storyline ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to September 8th 1949): cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right.

In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release, with the concluding volume published three years later. The albums were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, in addition to a single omnibus edition released in 1964.

Hergé and Jacobs purportedly suffered a split in 1947 when the former refused to grant the latter a by-line on new Tintin material they had collaborated on, but since the two remained friends for life and Jacobs continued to produce Blake et Mortimer for the weekly, I think it’s fair to assume that if such was the case it was a pretty minor spat. I rather suspect that the Eccentric Englishmen were simply taking up more and more of the diligent artist’s time and attention…

Cinebook have made the Gentleman Heroes a bankable proposition, releasing the 29-and-counting albums, but suffice to say that the concluding instalment of Professor Satō’s Three Formulae was a long time coming …

Les 3 formules du professeur SatōMortimer contre Mortimer was a tragically extended affair and only credited Jacobs as writer and layout artist. The 11th album had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972, after which the author simply dropped the story.

He died on February 20th 1987 and as cited veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Cori le Moussaillon, Balthazar, Barelli and so many others) was commissioned to complete his final tale from pencils and notes.

The concluding album was released in March 1990, sparking a republishing renaissance and new adventures from a variety of creative teams…

As previously described, boisterous boffin Mortimer is in Japan when contacted by robotics pioneer and cyberneticist supreme Professor Akira Satō. The savant has performed miracles in mass-production of highly specialised mechanoids and androids, but his discoveries – parsed down into three crucial processes and deposited in three separate banks – are targeted by a ruthless gang led by Blake and Mortimer’s greatest enemy.

The villains infiltrated Satō’s home and laboratory, tried to murder Mortimer numerous times and unleashed a robot duplicate of the scientist, but have been unable to stop a summons for help going out to his Secret Service ally. Now, with Blake imminently expected, the gang radically accelerate their timetable…

Blake is watched from the moment he disembarks at Haneda Airport and hidden enemies are already in place at his hotel. The MI5 chief has a suite next to Mortimer’s, and although his comrade is missing, finds plenty of clues as to what has happened to him. The diligent search also uncovers the video surveillance gear infesting both rooms and sets his watchers running for the exits in panic…

A hasty pursuit only leads to his own capture but, with fortune ever favouring the brave, Blake turns the tables on his foes in a deadly clash at the hotel garages, before sending them all fleeing for their lives.

By the time he has connected with Police Superintendent Hasumi and briefed Colonel Mitsu of the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency, the assailants have vanished, but Blake is building a picture of what is going on. To end the Englishman’s threat forever, a diabolical and desperate scheme is devised and a second Mortimer robot is built to assassinate Blake…

Turncoat assistant Kim is nervous. Although happy to use Satō’s incredible inventions to detain Mortimer and his former employer, the traitor is not conversant enough with production procedures to guarantee success. Nevertheless, a deadly doppelganger of the Professor is soon despatched to kill Blake…

The real Mortimer has not been idle. With Satōs aid he has escaped the lab prison, rushing to intercept the android assassin, but unaware that behind him, unqualified hands have meddled with the duplication processes and a legion of horrific misfit mechanoids are tumbling off the conveyor belts…

What follows is a succession of spectacular chases, frantic battles and a final shattering showdown between Blake, Mortimer and the man who has bedevilled them since the Swordfish case – a fitting end to their exploits and, thanks to the graphic efforts of De Moor, a perfect, revitalising stepping stone for other creators to continue the feature…

Rocket-paced, suspenseful and cathartically action-packed, this is an enthralling changing-of-the-guard, building to an explosive conclusion and satisfying final flourish: another superbly stylish blockbuster to delight every adventure addict and Jacobs purist.

As well as the aforementioned historical overview – ‘Jacobs: 1946, the Swordfish, starting point of a masterful work’ – this Cinebook edition also includes excerpts from two other albums, a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Vol 1: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1977 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.
Vol. 2: Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s. a.) 1990 by E.P. Jacobs & Bob De Moor. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies volume 1 1936-1937


By Lee Falk & Ray Moore: introduction by Ron Goulart (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-41-5 (HB)

There are plenty of comics-significant anniversaries this year, and this guy is probably right at the top of the birthday cake.

For such a long-lived, influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market (except in Australia where he has always been accorded the status of a pop culture god).

Numerous companies have sought to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success. At least the former issue began to be rectified with this initial curated collection from Archival specialists Hermes Press…

This particular edition is a lovely large hardback (albeit also available in digital formats), printed in landscape format, displaying two days strip per page in black and white with ancillary features and articles in dazzling colour where required.

Born Leon Harrison Gross, Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his King Features Syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician. Although technically not the first ever costumed champion in comics, The Phantom became the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits…

The Ghost Who Walks debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against an ancient global confederation of pirates. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over illustration to artist Ray Moore. A spectacular and hugely influential Sunday feature began in May 1939.

In a text feature stuffed with sumptuous visual goodies like movie posters; covers for comics, Feature and Little Big Books plus merchandise, Ron Goulart’s eruditely enticing ‘Introduction: Enter the Ghost Who Walks’ tells all you need to know about the character’s creation before the vintage magic begins with ‘Chapter 1: The Singh Brotherhood’.

American adventurer Diane Palmer returns to the USA by sea, carrying a most valuable secret making her the target of mobsters, society ne’er-do-wells and exotic cultists. Thankfully, she seems to have an enigmatic guardian angel who calls himself  “the Phantom”…

As successive attacks and assaults endanger the dashing debutante, she learns that an ancient brotherhood of ruthless piratical thieves wants her secret, but that they have been opposed for centuries by one man…

Kidnapped and held hostage at the bottom of the sea, she is saved by the mystery man who falls in love and eventually shares his incredible history with her…

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and – washing ashore on the African coast – swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance and unswerving war against injustice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades, one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle. And he’s looking to propagate the line…

In the meantime, however, there’s the slight problem of Emperor of Evil Kabai Singh and his superstitious armies to deal with…

‘Chapter 2: The Sky Band’ (originally published from 9th November 1936 to April 10th 1937) finds the mystery avenger caught in love’s old game as a potential rival for Diana’s affections materialises in the rather stuffy form of career soldier Captain Meville Horton – an honourable man who sadly knows when he’s outmatched, unwanted and in the way. Mistakenly determined to do the right thing too, The Phantom concentrates on destroying a squadron of thieving aviators targeting the burgeoning sky clipper trade: airborne bandits raiding passenger planes and airships throughout the orient.

His initial efforts lead to the Phantom’s arrest: implicated in the sky pirates’ crimes, before escaping from police custody with the aid of his devoted pygmy witch doctor Guran and faithful Bandar tribe allies, he’s soon hot on the trail of the real mastermind…

On infiltrating their base, he discovers the airborne brigands are all women, and that his manly charms have driven a lethal wedge between the deadly commander and her ambitious second in command Sala

A patient plaything of the manic Baroness, The Phantom eventually turns the tide not by force but by exerting his masculine wiles upon the hot-blooded – if psychopathic – harridan, unaware until too late that his own beloved, true-blue Diana is watching. When she sets a trap for the Sky Band, it triggers civil war in the gang, a brutal clash with the British military and the seemingly end of our hero, triggering Diana’s despondent decision to return alone to America…

‘Chapter 3: The Diamond Hunters’ opened on April 12th 1936 and revealed how the best laid plans can go awry…

In Llongo territory, white prospectors Smiley and Hill unearth rich diamond fields but cannot convince or induce local tribes to grant them mineral rights to the gems they consider worthless. Like most native Africans, they are content to live comfortably under the “Phantom’s Peace” and it takes all the miners’ guile – including kidnapping a neighbouring chief’s daughter and framing the Llongo; gunrunning and claiming the Ghost Who Walks has died – to set the natives at each other’s throats. Recovering from wounds, the Phantom is slow to act, but when he does his actions are decisive and unforgettable…

With the plot foiled and peace restored, Smiley flees, only to encounter a returned Diana who has acted on news that her man still lives. Seeing a chance for revenge and profit, Smiley kidnaps “the Phantom’s girl”; provoking his being shunned by all who live in the region, a deadly pursuit and a spectacular last-minute rescue. Smiley’s biggest and last mistake is reaching the coast and joining up with a band of seagoing pirates…

At least he is the catalyst for Diana and The Ghost finally addressing their romantic issues….

To Be Continued…

‘Afterword: For Those Who Came in Late…’ then sees editor Ed Rhoades offer his own thoughts on the strip’s achievements and accomplishments.

Stuffed with chases, assorted fights, torture, blood & thunder antics, daredevil stunts and many a misapprehension – police and government authorities clearly having a hard time believing a pistol-packing masked man with a pet wolf might not be a bad egg – this a pure gripping excitement that still packs a punch and quite a few sly laughs. …

© 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc.: ® Hearst Holdings, Inc.; reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Yoko Tsuno volume 10: Message for Eternity


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-251-5 (Album PB)

The uncannily edgy yet excessively accessible exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno first graced the pages of Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong, with 29th album Anges et Faucons (Angels and Falcons) released in 2019.

The eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi-award-winning series is the brainchild of Roger Leloup, another hugely talented Belgian who worked as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin before striking out on his own. Compellingly told, astoundingly imaginative yet always grounded in hyper-realistic settings whilst sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the vanguard of a wave of comics featuring competent, clever and brave female protagonists that revolutionised Continental comics from the last third of the 20th century onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The initial Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were short introductory vignettes prior to the superbly capable Miss Tsuno and her always awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades Pol and Vic truly hitting their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange (which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue).

That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of many European albums, with the one here first serialised in LJdS #1882-1905 (from 9th May-17 October 17th 1974) and released a year later as Message pour l’éternité. A skilfully crafted suspenseful mystery thriller, the chronologically fifth album over there reaches us as Cinebook’s 10th translated chronicle.

It all begins as Yoko perfects her skills in a new hobby. Gliding high above Brittany. she fortuitously sets down in a field near a vast telecommunications complex. Offered a tour of the space-probing facility, she learns from one of the scientists of a fantastic “ghost message” recently picked up by their satellites: a Morse code signal from a British plane lost in 1933. Moreover, the signal is still being regularly broadcast…

As Yoko tries to arrange for her glider to be collected, a mysterious Englishman offers her a lift in his private helicopter but he has an ulterior motive. He works for the company which insured the lost flight and is looking for someone with certain exacting qualifications to trace the downed flight and recover a fortune in jewels from it. Her fee will be £20,000…

His firm has known where the plane went down for quite some time, but geographical and logistical difficulties have prevented them from undertaking a recovery mission until now. Moreover, although they have now started the process, the petite engineer is physically superior to the candidates the company are currently working with…

Cautiously accepting the commission, Yoko starts planning but even before Pol and Vic can join her the following day, strange accidents and incidents impact and imperil her life…

The boys are understandably reluctant but that attitude turns to sheer frustration and terror after someone tries to shoot Yoko down as she practises in her glider. This only makes her more determined to complete the job at all costs…

Two weeks later the trio are heading to the daunting Swiss fortress the company uses as a base, when another spectacular murder attempt almost ends their lives. Yoko remains undaunted but not so Vic and Pol, especially after overhearing that two of her fellow trainees recently died in similar “accidents” in the mountains…

Carrying on regardless, she assesses the technologically sophisticated glider-&-launch system which will take her to the previously unattainable crash site and perfects her landing technique in a fantastic training simulator. Eventually more details are provided and the real story unfolds.

In November 1933, the Handley-Page transport they are hunting was conveying diplomatic mail from Karachi to London before vanishing in a storm over Afghanistan. Decades later, a satellite somehow picked up a broken radio message stating it had landed…

Somewhere…

The businessman the trio call “Milord” identifies himself as Major Dundee – a spymaster from Britain’s Ministry of Defence – who explains how a shady American former U2 pilot approached the British government, claiming to have spotted the downed ship during a clandestine overflight of Soviet territories.

He provided purloined photos showing the plane in the centre of a vast circular crater on the Russo-Chinese border, but subsequent reconnaissance flights revealed nothing in the hole so the decision was taken to make a physical assessment, even though the already inaccessible site was deep in hostile enemy territory. Since then, it has become clear that some unidentified agent or group is acting against the recovery project, presumably intent on retrieving the ship’s mysterious but valuable cargo for a foreign power.

Events spiral out of control when a traitor in the training team attempts to kill Yoko and “Operation Albatross” is rushed to commencement before the unknown enemy can try again…

Within a day she is transported in a speedy manner around the world before her space-age glider prototype is secretly deployed over the enigmatic crater…

Narrowly avoiding patrolling Soviet jets, Yoko deftly manoeuvres into the mist-covered chasm and plunges into one of the most uncanny experiences of her life.

The old plane is certainly gone. The floor of the crater is strangely  cracked and at the centre stands a burned and blackened monolith; there are uncharacteristic animal bones everywhere and at one end of the vast cavity is a primitive but large graveyard…

When the astounded girl goes exploring, she is ambushed by her treacherous fellow trainee who has raced after her by conventional means before parachuting into the bizarre basin. However, his original plans have changed drastically since arrival, and despite the machine gun he wields, he needs Yoko’s help. He’s already located the Handley-Page – somehow manually dragged under an unsuspected overhang in the crater – but is mortally afraid of what he describes as the “tiny people” infesting the terrifying impact bowl…

As the unlikely allies head towards the eerily preserved plane, the truth about the terrifying homunculi is shockingly revealed and they encounter the last human survivor of the downed Diplomatic Flight, discovering to their cost the uncanny and ultimately deadly atmospheric anomaly which has kept the plane a secret for decades and turned the crater into a vast geological radio set…

When the dust settles, Yoko realises she is trapped in the subterranean anomaly. With all her escape plans rendered useless she must align herself with the bizarre sole survivor and his bestial, rebellious servants, but she also refuses to give up on the recovery mission. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she has to trust anything the old relic in the hole or Major Dundee has said. With that in mind she lays her own plans to settle matters…

As ever, the most potent asset of these breathtaking dramas is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail, honed through years of working on Tintin.

With this sleekly beguiling tale Yoko proved that she was a truly multi-faceted adventurer, equally at home in all manner of dramatic milieux and able to hold her own against the likes of James Bond, Modesty Blaise, Tintin or any other genre-busting super-star: as triumphantly capable thwarting spies and crooks as alien invaders, weird science effects or unchecked forces of nature…

This is a splendidly frenetic, tense thriller which will appeal to any fan of blockbuster action fantasy or devious espionage exploit.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Batman Year 100 and Other Tales Deluxe Edition


By Paul Pope, with José Villarrubia, Ted McKeever, James Jean & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5807-8 (HB)

Paul Pope is one of the most individualistic comics creators in the business, both in his writing and the superbly moody drawing which usually resembles a blend of manga and European modern realism.

He was born in 1970 and straddles a lot of seemingly disparate arenas. The multi award-winning raconteur began making waves in 1995 with self-published Sci-Fi caper THB, simultaneously working for Japan’s Kodansha on the serial feature Supertrouble.

Pope is dedicated to innovation and inquiry: taking fresh looks at accepted genres with works such as One-Trick Ripoff, 100%, Escapo, Heavy Liquid, Sin Titulo or his Young Adult OGN franchise Battling Boy. He’s worked on a few DC projects over the years but none quite as high-profile or well-received as his 2006 prestige mini-series Batman: Year 100.

This collection – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the entire saga whilst also representing a few other pertinent titbits for your delectation and delight…

In Gotham City 2039AD there’s a conspiracy brewing. It’s a dystopian, authoritarian world where the Federal Government is oppressive, ruthless and corrupt, but from out of the shadows a long-vanished threat to that iron-fisted control has resurfaced. In spite of all odds and technologies of the ultimate surveillance society, a masked vigilante is once again taking the law into his own hands…

Eschewing our contemporary obsession with spoon-fed explanations and origin stories, Pope leaps head-first into the action for this dark political thriller. We don’t need a backstory. There’s a ‘Bat-Man of Gotham’ dispensing justice with grim effectiveness. There’s a good but world-wearied cop named Gordon, helpless but undaunted in the face of a bloated and happily red-handed bureaucracy. There’s a plot to frame this mysterious vigilante for the murder of a federal agent. Ready, steady, Go!

Fast paced, gripping, eerie and passionate, this stripped-down version of the iconic Batman concept taps into the primal energy of the character seldom seen since those early days of Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson. Once more, a special man who – at the end – is only human fights for good against all obstacles, and uncaring of any objections… especially the police.

For me, Guys with Suits and a Plan have always been scarier than nutters in spandex and it’s clear I’m not alone in that anxiety, as Pope’s smug, officious civil servant antagonists callously and continually cut a swathe of destruction through the city and populace they’re apparently protecting. Like so many previous Administrations in US history, the objectives seem to have obscured the intentions in Gotham 2039. With such sound-bite gems as “To save the village, we had to destroy the village” echoing in your head, follow the projected Caped Crusader and his dedicated band of associates as they clean house in the dirtiest city in a dirty world.

Following that clarion call to liberty are a small selection of graphic gems beginning with Pope’s first ever Bat tale from 1997. Accompanied by a commentary, ‘Berlin Batman’ (originally published in The Batman Chronicles #11) sees Pope and colourist Ted McKeever relate the career of a German Jewish costumed avenger plaguing the ascendant Third Reich in the dark days of 1939.

Winning the 2006 Eisner Award for Best Short Story, ‘Teenage Sidekick’, from Solo #3, sees first Robin Dick Graysonescape a chilling fate and learn a chilling lesson at the hands of both his masked mentor and the Joker, before Batman: Gotham Knights #3 (May 2000) provides a black & white memory as a neophyte Dark Knight ponders the repercussions of his first ever ‘Broken Nose’ and takes a rather petty revenge on the perpetrator…

Also included here are ancillary text pages to supplement the main story, delivered as ‘Batman: Year 100 News Archives’and as plus notes, design sketches and unused artwork

All science fiction is commentary on the present, not prognostication of tomorrows. The Heroic Ideal is about wish-fulfilment as much as aspiration and escapism. Batman: Year 100 is a moody yet gloriously madcap story honouring the history and conventions of the primal Batman by speaking to modern audiences in the same terms as the 1939 prototype did. This is a book for the generations.
© 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles volume 1


By Max Allan Collins & Rick Fletcher (Checker Books)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-642-1 (TPB)

Time for another anniversary celebration. Here’s a superb collection crying out for revival in either physical or digital forms. Time to agitate against the publishing powers-that-be, I think…

All in all, comics have a pretty good track record for creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth – usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman and Tarzan – and supplement the list with Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and – not so much now, but once definitely – Dick Tracy

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould sought fresh strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone – who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers – the scribbler settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion…

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ charisma. He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation.

He took his proposal – “Plainclothes Tracy” – to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had already blessed strips like The Gumps, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle,Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others. Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the hero Dick Tracy, also revising his love interest into steady, steadfast girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and quickly grew into a monumental hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows. Amidst toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. Gould unfailingly wrote and drew the strip for decades until retirement in 1977.

The legendary lawman was a landmark creation who influenced not simply comics but the entirety of American popular fiction. Its signature use of baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips (most notably Batman), shows and movies since then, whilst the indomitable Tracy’s studied, measured use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crimefighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries such as CSI decades before the current fascination took hold.

As with many creators in it for the long haul, the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Gould’s grizzled gangbuster especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the move towards science fiction (Tracy moved into space and the character Moon Maid was introduced) and even more improbable, Bond-movie style villains as any perceived “old-fashioned” attitudes. Even the introduction of more minority and women characters and hippie cop Groovy Groovecouldn’t stop the rot. However, the feature soldiered on regardless…

Max Allen Collins is a hugely prolific and best-selling author of both graphic novels (Road to Perdition, CSI, Mike Mist, Ms. Tree) and prose thriller series featuring crime-creations Nathan Heller, Quarry, Nolan, Mallory, Krista Larson and a veritable pantheon of others. When Gould retired from the Tracy strip, the young author (nearly 30!) won the prestigious role as scripter, promptly taking the series back to its roots for a breathtaking 11-year run, ably assisted by Gould as consultant even as his chief artistic assistant Rick Fletcher was promoted to full illustrator.

This criminally scarce but splendidly enthralling monochrome paperback compilation opens with publisher Mark Thompson’s informative Introduction ‘Flatfoot’, and offers a frankly startling ‘Dick Tracy Timeline’ listing the series achievements and innovations from 1931 to 1988 even before the captivating Cops-&-Robbers clashes recommence with Collin’s inaugural adventure.

Angeltop’s Last Stand’ (3rd January-March 12th 1978) rapidly sidelined all the fantastical science fiction trappings (Tracy’s adopted son Junior had previously married lunar princess Moon Maid) whilst reviving grittily ultra-violent suspense as old friend Vitamin Flintheart is targeted for assassination.

With the senior detective’s assistants Sam Catchem and Lizz Worthington on the case, it’s soon clear the assault is part of a plan to make Tracy suffer. Solid investigation turns up two suspects, relatives of old – and expired – enemies Flattop Jonesand The Brow confirming familial revenge is the motive…

Sadly, the Police Department’s resources are inadequate to prevent aggrieved daughter Angeltop Jones and the new Browfrom abducting Tracy. Tragically for the vengeful felons, the grizzled crimebuster might be old but he’s still inventive and indomitable, and a cataclysmic confrontation leads to a fatal conflagration at the place of Flattop’s demise…

The next tale features an original Gould villain making a surprise comeback in the ‘Return of Haf-and-Haf’ (March 13th-June 11th) as maniac murderer Tulza Tuzon – whose left profile had been hideously scarred with acid – is released from the asylum, rehabilitated by modern psychology and groundbreaking plastic surgery…

Of course, only his face was fixed and the fiend quickly tries to murder ex-fiancée Zelda – who had betrayed him to the cops a decade previously. Tracy is on hand to save her life but unable to prevent her from enacting grisly retribution on her attacker, leaving Tuzon woefully in need of fresh cosmetic repair.

The unscrupulous surgeon who fixed him on the State’s dime wants a huge amount of clandestine cash to repeat the procedure and the stage is soon set for doom and tragedy on a Shakespearean scale…

This first Collins collection concludes with an epic minor classic that harked back to Tracy’s first published case. ‘Big Boy’s Revenge’ – AKA ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ – ran from 12th June 1978 to January 2nd 1979) detailing the unexpected return of the thinly-disguised Al Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career.

Decades later Big Boy, still a member of the crime syndicate known as The Apparatus, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants to take with him the cop first who brought him down…

Ignoring and indeed eventually warring with the other Apparatus chiefs, the dying Don puts a $1,000,000 contract on Tracy’s head and lies back to watch the fireworks as a horde of hitmen and women zero in on the blithely unaware Senior Detective…

The resulting collateral damage costs the hero one of his nearest and dearest, removes most of the strip’s accumulated sci fi trappings and firmly resets the scenario in the grim and gritty world of contemporary crime. The Good Guys triumph in the end but the cost is shockingly high for a family strip…

Dick Tracy has always been a fantastically readable feature and this potent return to first principles is a terrific way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-Love, Hard Justice world.

Comics just don’t get better than this…
© Checker Book Publishing Group 2003, an authorized collection of works © Tribune Media Services, 1978, 1979. All characters and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Tribune Media Services. All rights reserved.

Steed and Mrs Peel volume One: A Very Civil Armageddon


By Mark Waid, Caleb Monroe, Steve Bryant, Will Sliney, Yasmin Liang & Chris Rosa & various (Boom! Studios/Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60886-306-8 (TPB)

Generally, when I write about the Avengers, we’re all thinking about an assembled multitude of Marvel superheroes, but – until the blockbuster movie franchise stormed the 21st century world – for most non-comics civilians that name usually conjured up images of dashing heroics, old world charm, incredible, implausible adventure and true British style – not to say bizarrely fetishistic attire. It’s easy to see how that might lead to some consumer confusion…

In this anniversary year for the TV show, I thought we’d revisit some of the many comics outings of the English iteration, so we’re starting here. Be prepared for a sparkling variety of follow-up treats in the months ahead…

The (other) Avengers was a stylish, globally popular crime/spy TV show made in Britain: glamorously and seductively blending espionage thrills with arch, knowing comedy. After a grim-‘n’-gritty start in 1961, it gradually combined deadly danger with elements of technological fantasy, capturing the mood of two distinct eras, A phenomenal cult hit, the show and its1980s sequel The New Avengers are best remembered now for Cool Britannia-styled action, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

The legacy of the series is apparent in many later shows like The Invisible Man (both TV spy iterations); Chuck, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Enormously popular across the globe – even Warsaw Pact Poland was crazy for Rewolwer i melonik (“A Revolver and a Bowler Hat”) – the show evolved from bleak vengeance thriller Police Surgeon (September-December 1961) into the epitome of wittily sophisticated adventure lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed partnering with a succession of dazzlingly talented women displaying the true meaning of the term “agency”.

Most revered was amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel who battled spies, supervillains, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongue very much in cheek and always under the strictest determination to remain cool, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by (Dame) Diana Rigg, had been a replacement for landmark and breakthrough character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female in British television history. She left the show in 1964 to become Bond Girl Pussy Galore (in Goldfinger), but her replacement with Rigg took the show to even greater heights of success. The role of recently bereaved Emma Peel hit a chord with viewers and cemented the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman into the nation’s psyche: forever countering – if not quite abolishing – the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967 (to marry James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and another feisty female was found in the person of Tara King (Linda Thorson) to carry the series to its demise in 1969. Its continued popularity in more than 90 countries eventually resulted in a revival during the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous “Sloane Ranger” Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and brutishly manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) acting as partners and foils to the agelessly debonair and deadly Steed…

The show has remained a hugely enticing cult icon. There was a rather ill-conceived major motion picture in 1998, but the television version regularly features in Top 20 rankings for assorted polls assessing Cult TV Shows. During its run and beyond, the internationally adored series has spawned toys; games; collector models; a pop single and stage show; radio series; posters and books plus all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany an evergreen media sensation.

Naturally, as a popular British Television program these Avengers were no stranger to our comics pages either.

Following an introductory cartoon strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward, The Viewer and Manchester Evening News (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced and crushing crime.

This serial ran until #771 (September 24th 1966), with the dashing duo also starring in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend. This feature transferred to DC Thomson’s Diana, running until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic (from #877): now depicting Steed and Tara King until 1972 (#1077).

In 1966 there was a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook from Mick Anglo Studios whilst in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book in 1968 using recycled UK material under the rather obvious title John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had already secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”.

There were also a number of wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Season trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals after which a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969, augmented by plus a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Between 1990 and 1992, Eclipse Comics and the UK’s ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries, Steed & Mrs. Peel: crafted by Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield & Ian Gibson. Stay tuned for a review of that one too…

Repackaged and reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios, that event acted as a pilot for a fresh iteration, the first compilation of which is under review here. Wisely set in the series’ Swinging Sixties Britain heyday, this volume of Steed and Mrs. Peel collects issues #0-3 (August-December 2012): a worthy reintroduction for the faithful and happily accessible introduction for notional newcomers as the dedicated followers of felons return for another clash with memorable TV antagonists The Hellfire Club.

These baroque bounders appeared in episode ‘A Touch of Brimstone’ and so warped the maturing personalities of young Chris Claremont & John Byrne that they later created their own version for a comic book they were working on – the Uncanny X-Men

The drama here opens in ‘A Very Civil Armageddon: Prologue’ (written by Boom! chief creative guru Mark Waid and illustrated by Steve Bryant) as, way back then, our heroes are called upon to investigate ‘The Dead Future’, as an active – albeit murdered – agent seemingly ages decades overnight.

The situation reminds Mrs. Peel of the mind-bending, lethally effective fun-&-games perpetrated by the insidious Hellfire Club and its now-defunct leader the Honourable John Clever-Cartney

Further inquiries take them to the latest incarnation of the ancient Gentleman’s Club where avowed futurist Ian Lansdowne Dunderdale Cartney disavows any knowledge of the matter… or his dad’s old antisocial habits. In fact, the current scion is far more absorbed with the World of Tomorrow than the embarrassing peccadilloes of the past. However, it’s all a trap and whilst Mrs Peel is attacked by a killer robot maid, Steed is ambushed – only to awaken as a doddering old man 35 years later in the year 2000AD!

Forever undaunted, the temporarily separated Derring-Duo refuse to accept the improbable, impeccably and individually striking back to uncover the incredible answer to an impossible situation…

The main event – by Waid & Caleb Monroe with art from Will Sliney – depicts ‘London Falling’ as long-anticipated and dreaded nuclear Armageddon finally happens, leaving Steed, Peel and a swarm of politicians, Lords and civil servants as the only survivors, hunkered down in a battered atomic bunker beneath the utterly devastated Houses of Parliament.

The shattered, shaken remnants of Empire and Civilisation soon discover that the only other survivors are ghastly atomic mutants and a coterie of exceptionally well-stocked and fully prepared members of the Hellfire Club…

‘Life in Hell’ finds the former foes joining forces and combining resources, but Steed and Peel are convinced something is “not kosher”. For one thing, former members of once-important political committees and knowledgeable generals keep disappearing, but – most importantly – Ian Cartney and his deplorable sister Dirigent are now known to be masters of their father’s dark arts of illusion, trickery and brainwashing…

Almost too late, Steed rumbles the nature of an audaciously cunning Psy-Ops espionage scheme as Emma is once more transformed into a ferocious, whip-wielding bondage nightmare for concluding instalment ‘Long Live the Queen’. Of course, a good spy, like a boy scout, is always prepared, and the dapper detective adroitly turns the tables on his foes just in time for a rollicking, explosively old-fashioned comeuppance…

Wry, arch and wickedly satisfying, this opening salvo in the reborn franchise remains a delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike. This volume includes a vast (28) gallery of covers and variants by Joseph Michael Linsner, Phil Noto, Joshua Covey & Blond, Mike Perkins & Vladimir Popov and Drew Johnson to astound the eyes as much as the story assaults the senses…

…And the best is yet to come…
© 2013 StudioCanal S.A. All rights reserved.

Blake and Mortimer: S.O.S. Meteors


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-97-7 (Album PB)

Not all of 2021’s comics milestones are Anglo-American affairs. These guys are celebrating 75 glorious years of uncanny exploits and still going strong. Bon Anniversaire, mes amis …

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning yarns combining science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thriller action, rendered in the same ageless and inviting Ligne Claire style which first made intrepid boy reporter Tintin into a global sensation.

The strip debuted in the premier issue of Le Journal de Tintin (dated 26th September 1946): an international anthology comic with multi-language editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The magazine was edited by Hergé himself, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features designed to inspire young readers of the post-war world…

S.O.S. Météores began serialisation in the January 8th 1958 issue: running until April 22nd 1959 before being subsequently collected six months after the conclusion as the 8th album of the drama-drenched epic escapade. It was just in time for the Christmas rush.

In 2009 the tale was translated into English as Cinebook’s 6th Blake and Mortimer release, and – subtitled ‘Mortimer in Paris’ – opens here with the incomparable boffin in the City of Lights, answering a Gallic colleague’s pleas for assistance.

Like all his unhappy ilk, meteorologist Professor Labrousse is shouldering the brunt of public ire over freak weather events which are systematically bringing France to its knees. When Mortimer arrives, he experiences for himself the chaos tumultuous storms are inflicting upon the traffic-heavy metropolis. Thankfully, the embattled weatherman has despatched a taxi to collect the weary Englishman and bring him to the relative calm of suburban enclave Jouy.

Both driver and passenger are unaware of a flashy American car covertly dogging them. As conditions steadily worsen, the ride becomes truly hazardous, leading to an inevitable crash. Separated from the driver and blindly wandering in the storm, Mortimer plunges into a lake and barely manages to scrabble to safety.

Finding his way back to the road, the exhausted scientist thumbs a lift to Labrousse’s house and is warmly welcomed. Of the taxi driver, however, there is no trace…

The old chums discuss the catastrophic conditions and uncanny events long into the night, but the next morning further deliberations are curtailed when the police arrive, eager to interview the Englishman about a certain cab driver’s disappearance…

Deeply troubled, the learned men attempt to retrace Mortimer’s steps and discover the terrain is completely different from Englishman’s memories. They also encounter a thug and his immense dog going over the same sodden ground. The strangers are clearly following the orders of a boss who keeps well hidden, and a violent altercation is barely avoided with a simple whistle from the unseen voyeur…

Eventually the lifetime experience of the local postman enables the baffled British boffin to solve his geographical conundrum, and a recovered trail leads to a nearby estate with huge walls patrolled by the same terrifying hound he met earlier. Well-versed in surveillance procedure, Mortimer prepares to probe further but is distracted when a sudden snowstorm begins. Determinedly he returns later, well-prepared and using the blizzard as cover to investigate the estate. It proves to be a tremendous mistake…

Next morning in Paris, Divisional Commissioner Pradier of French Intelligence welcomes a counterpart from Great Britain, looking into an espionage ring at work in France. Captain Francis Blake’s keen insight quickly scores a hit: opening up new leads that seemly connect to the weather conditions tormenting the nation. However, on meeting hastily-summoned Labrousse, Blake learns old comrade Mortimer has vanished after announcing that the aberrant meteorology is man-made…

Travelling to Jouy with the horrified weatherman, Blake makes a shocking impression on Labrousse’s usually-affable neighbour as the strange atmospheric conditions are abruptly compounded with odd little accidents and frustrations that can only be seen in total as concerted enemy action…

The saga kicks into high gear when Blake recognises old – and presumed dead – enemies and is chased through unrelenting arctic conditions back to Paris in a deadly, hair-raising game of cat-&-mouse which culminates in another confrontation with his most implacable foe…

Assisted by Pradier’s forces, Blake soon has the villains on the run, spectacularly fleeing over Parisian rooftops, but the big fish again escapes, and our heroes face the fact that they may never know what has become of Mortimer…

In Jouy, however, the irascible researcher has made good use of his time. Incarcerated with diabolical Professor Milosh Georgevich – who has used the vast resources of an aggressor nation to weaponise weather in advance of an audacious scheme to invade France for the third time in a century – Mortimer acts alone and escapes his jailers. Picking up an unexpected ally as he tries to sabotage the colossal climate engines, the Prof is utterly unaware that his greatest friend has picked up new clues and is closing in on the plotters…

Moody and comparatively low-key until the final act – when tensions build to explosive heights and a Bond-Movie finish – S.O.S. Meteors is a splendid romp packed with astounding action, scads of sinister deviltry and a blockbuster climax to delight spy-buffs and all devotees of the Distinguished Duo.

Addictive and absorbing in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the epitome of dogged heroic determination and the natural successors to such heroic icons as Professor Challenger, Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay, delivering grand Blood-&-Thunder thrills, chills and spills in timeless fashion and with a mesmerising visual punch.

Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will enjoy the experience of their lives…

This Cinebook edition – available in paperback and digital editions – also includes excerpts from two other B&M albums plus a short biographical feature and publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1989 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.